A Method of Training Bees to Visit a Feeding Station

[1961 Wenner, A.M. A method of training bees to visit a feeding station. Bee World. 42:8-11.]

Department of Biological Sciences,
University of California,
Santa Barbara, California, USA


This paper describes a method for training bees to visit a feeding station, a subject which has been inadequately treated in the literature. Von Frish (1950, 1954), Ribbands (1953) and various Russian workers Have included descriptions of training bees. These methods, however, have often proved ineffective; Rothenbuhler (1959) and Murie (1960) have mentioned that prospective researchers in bee behaviour have been unable to proceed because they had no effective method for training bees. Difficulties were also experienced by the author (Wenner, 1961), even during periods of nectar shortage.

The following method was suggested in part by Boch (1959) and was refined and tested in 1960.


In southern Michigan the clover nectar flow normally lasts until the middle of July, at which time the nectar supply slackens (Martin, 1959). This period was chosen to take advantage of a probable nectar source. An unusually cool and moist spring and early summer promoted a greater supply of midsummer wild flowers than normal, however, which might have been expected to reduce the possibility of success in training bees during this period. Nevertheless, the method proved successful.

In testing this method, a seven-frame hive was located on a stand with its entrance approximately 1/2 m. from the ground. The box on which the feeder sat (at the same height as the hive entrance) was placed in front of the hive. On a cool (60º-70ºF.), rainy day in the middle of July the hive was opened and the top bars and bees were liberally sprinkled with a 2-molar solution of peppermint-flavoured sugar syrup (5 drops of peppermint flavoring to 1 litre of syrup). After the bees had had time to store this syrup, drops of syrup were continually offered at the hive entrance until 10-20 bees were regularly taking it. Then drops of syrup were placed on an 8 X 13 cm. (3 X 5 in.) card which was held at the hive entrance, forcing bees to walk 4-5 cm. before they were able to imbibe syrup. Drops of syrup were added to the card as fast as bees removed them. When 5-10 bees were on the card, the card was carefully transferred to the box, at the same height as the hive entrance, but leaving a gap of 3-4 cm. between it and the card. Bees would not normally fly across the gap, however, and this transferring of the card to the stand had to be repeated 20-30 times before any bees flew from the hive entrance to the stand. The preceding step, forcing the bees to fly, was the most difficult step encountered.

After the bees were regularly flying from the entrance of the hive to the stand, the stand was moved in the direction the station would eventually be from the hive. This movement was only 5-10 cm. each 5-10 min. until the foragers were flying about 2 m. At this distance a feeder, consisting of an inverted jar of syrup in a saucer (with a gap between jar and saucer, providing an automatic dispensing of the syrup), was used instead of syrup on a card. Bees were then allowed to become accustomed to imbibing at the feeder before the station was moved further from the hive.

The moving of the station away from the hive consisted of a set procedure which was repeated until the station was at the desired distance. During a period of decreased activity, an opaque can was placed over the feeder and any remaining bees. As the remaining bees became full, they were allowed to escape and return to the hive; newly arrived bees were not allowed access too the syrup. In 1/2 – 1 min., all bees which had been feeding had left for the hive. The can was then left in place about 3 min. until all bees had had time to return from the hive. (This time varied according to the distance of the feeding station from the hive; 2-3 min. was the minimum time needed.) As a result, all bees which had previously visited the station were now flying in its vicinity. The opaque can was then lifted from the feeder, allowing the bees to settle and imbibe the syrup. When all but 1-2 bees were settled, the entire feeding station was lifted and carefully carried in a straight line from the hive. Movement away from the hive was continued until the first bee was filled and flew back towards the hive. The station was then placed on the ground. The procedure given in this paragraph was repeated each time all bees had averaged 2-3 round trips to a new location, until the station was at the desired distance from the hive.

Initially the station was moved 210 m. from the hive and kept there 7-8 days for an experiment. At the end of that time the number of visitors dropped from 10-15 to 3-4 regular visitors, probably because of inadequate hive ventilation. After providing more ventilation to the hive, I decided to begin at the hive and re-train the bees to fly 420 m. to a station in the same direction. Meanwhile, however, all available foragers had reverted to visiting wild flowers, and bees did not imbibe sugar syrup at the hive entrance. The first attempt at training bees had been made on a cool rainy day. During this second attempt, the weather was generally warm (75º-85º F.) and clear. Apparently the first attempt had succeeded, at least in part, because of a temporary nectar shortage brought about by inclement weather.

The method which has been previously described succeeded, however, after pepperment-flavoured honey was substituted for flavoured sugar syrup. The bees could then be trained to fly to a station at 420 m., at which time the honey was replaced by a 2-molar solution of flavoured sugar syrup.

This success at training bees during a good nectar flow implies that it may be possible to train bees to visit feeding stations during most of the summer. The sugar concentration of the syrup can be adjusted to provide adequate competition to the natural nectar supply. The concentration should probably be kept as low as possible, however, in order to reduce its attractiveness to scout bees from other hives.


The basic difference between the method described above and one which consists of moving the station a short distance each time, appears to be in forcing bees to fly for some time before allowing then to alight. An experience the previous summer included attempts to move the station while bees were feeding on the syrup, but without having kept them away from it for a short time before permitting them to alight. These attempts all met with failure; bees so moved did not generally find the station in the new location.

The findings of von Frisch (1948), Shaposhnikova (1958) and Wenner (1961) indicate that foraging bees depend on their outgoing flight for the information they give to other bees about the distance of food from the hive. Thus, keeping bees in the air for a longer period of time than is necessary for flight to the food source may act in resetting the bee’s sensory mechanism. This, in turn, may allow a longer flight on the the next trip out from the hive. This does not mean, however, that every bee is certain to find the station in its new location. The success of the method apparently depends on the majority of bees being able to find the station after it has been moved. If these bees are allowed to make 2-3 round trips, they are likely to produce a signal in the hive which other recruits can follow (Shaposhnikova, 1958).


Dr. Francis C. Evans, director of the Edwin S. George Reserve, kindly permitted this study on the Reserve. The Edwin S. George Reserve Committee provided living quarters and financial assistance during the study. Mr. Harold E. Losey generously furnished bees, equipment, and time.


BOCH, R. (1959) Personal communication

FRISCH, K. von (1948) Geloste und ungeloste Ratsel der Bienensprache Naturwissenschaften 35 : 12-23, 38-43

__________ (1950) Bees, their vision, chemical senses, and language Ithaca, N.Y. : Cornell University Press

__________ (1954) The dancing bees London : Methuen

MARTIN, E. C. (1959) Michigan nectar flows [Mimeographed summary of data for 1951-1957] E. Lansing : Michigan State University

MURIE, M. L. (1960) Personal communication

RIBBANDS, C. R. (1953) The behaviour and social life of honeybees London : Bee Research Association

ROTHENBUHLER, W. C. (1959) Personal communication

SHAPOSHNIKOVA, N. G. (1958) [The factors determining the formation of the recruitment signal in the honeybee, Apis mellifera carnica] Rev. Ent. U.R.S.S. 37(3) : 473-481

WENNER, A. M. (1961) Sound production during the waggle dance of the honey bee Anim. Behav. (in press)

* This study was done at the University of Michigan’s Edwin S. George Reserve at Pinckney, Michigan.